How Do Mobile Devices Affect Your Game?

How does mobile technology affect your game? On the one hand, it provides access to resources - dice rollers, looking up rules, character managers, game-specific apps; on the other hand phones provide the distraction of Facebook, email, and text. I've been in many situations where a fellow player is just randomly showing another one a (hilarious?) YouTube video rather than playing the tabletop game in progress. Of course, it's far from a gaming-specific question; I've sat in pubs and liked around at tables of 3-4 people where all of them were looking at their phones rather than each other, and I'm far from innocent of that particular transgression myself. So, when gaming, how do you adopt technology? Do you have rules or restrictions, or are you lucky enough that your game is so captivating that it overrides the impulse to check Facebook?

One thing I've seen happening in London is that diners at a restaurant put their phones in the centre of the table. Anyone who touches their phone buys (depending on the strictness of the rules) a round of drinks, or everybody's dinner - and the result is that everybody engages with each other the whole time, as though mobile phones had never existed.

That doesn't translate easily to a roleplaying game scenario (unless you're ordering pizza for the group). But some groups, I've heard, enact in-game penalties. Touching your phone negates your next crit, for example.

On the flip side, there are many mobile applications which enhance games. A mere browser allows for instant rules lookups; dice rollers and character managers abound, as do initiative trackers and GM helper applications.

What are your mobile device policies at the game table?


log in or register to remove this ad

Glad to see many with the same response I'll give - we don't use them in our group in 5e. In our previous PF group we all had iPads or laptops using herolabs but people would get distracted and pull up websites and such so they caused a big distractions. When the Dm has to ask you twice what your doing that round cause you were flipping through your phone or surfing some none game related content, that's a distraction. I was a player in this one and would check my phone for a text when we took a break for drinks or such.

In the 5e game I'm now DMing, no need for laptops and such so table is much less cluttered (no laptops taking up table top space) so even though we don't have a rule per say this group does a great job of doing the above, check the phone when we take a break and I certainly appreciate the attention during the game.

log in or register to remove this ad



Like many others...depends on the game. Pretty much the only time the Tablets come out is when we're trying out a new game where I (the GM 99/100) have the physical copies of the book(s), and the players only picked up the PDF's. One player that does get distracted by his iphone (he uses that over a tablet) by playing some turn based video game on it or something...well, if I notice him, I specifically address his character by name for something. Like, oh, "Suddenly, Bearkiller notices s huge shadow moving down the mammoth cave, directly towards him..." If I don't get a reply in a few seconds, I continue "...right. The umber hulk lumbers of to Bearkiller and lays into him, intent on his next meal! (rolls dice; auto hit, however...I mean, Bearkiller isn't doing anything except stareing down at his feet)". After the damage is dealt, I address the player..."Zoltan? Hey, ZOLTAN! Yeah...Bearkiller just took 34 points of damage from the umber hulk in front of him...oh, and make a save, please..." >:) It usually only takes one incident in any given session for him to put it away for the rest of the game.

Other than that...before the game? Knock yourself out. But once we start playing, luckily, my players put their electronic distraction devices away...most of the time...

Me? I don't have a cell phone, so I never have the problem. :) I also almost never use my tablet. I just prefer to take my time with more tactile objects like pencils, dice, and paper. I guess I'm just old...and lovin' it! At the end of a multi-month or year campaign...I have a bunch of cool physical stuff to show for it and look back fondly on years down the road. Players that kept all their "characters and notes and stuff" in digital format? Nope...they typically have nothing because they've upgraded their phone or whatever. Sucks to be them I guess. ;)


Paul L. Ming


First Post
I share GMing duties with another guy. He's currently doing 5E. I'm doing SWFFG, as we're on a break from the 5E campaign I run. I've found technology to be very useful in prep, but very hindering in the game session. Our table is cluttered with two laptops (now a laptop and an iPad Pro), as two people use them for character sheets. With all these devices on the table, there's now a physical barrier between people, where before there was none. The other GM is one of those two, and he uses the laptop for everything in his game. He hooks his laptop up to the TV and runs Roll20 for EVERY battle. He has to track everything, including our personal hit points. And, when the tech doesn't go smoothly (which seems to be all the time, honestly), it takes even longer for this "better" method of running a game.

For my games, I'm considering a "No devices bigger than a phone on the table" rule. If you really must use your laptop instead of a paper sheet, then it must be on your lap, or on a side table, like a TV tray or something. I want to get rid of that physical barrier between the players. I want to be able to pull out physical maps and minis from time to time, and I cant right now because there's just no room for it.

There's also the problem that it's distracting as hell. Everyone (including me) is distracted by tech at the table. Looking at Facebook or funny sites, playing games on the phone ... whatever. We have one weekend a month where we get together with another guy who is running a D&D game. He doesn't use tech in his DMing, and it's honestly, the best game I play in because of it. I want to extend that to my game so that people focus on the game and each other, rather than hitting up Facebook/Twitter or reading Fox News or something.

It just feels very different than it did when I first started RP gaming back in 2001. And I don't like it. It feels a lot less personal and, in the end, a lot less fun.

I've not had any serious problems with them during our games. In fact, they've been quite handy in some instances. For example, I use an app called Tasker on my Android phone to accomplish all sorts of automation tasks in my day-to-day life, and I thought there could be a cool way to use it for D&D as well. A person who plays a rogue in our game occasionally wants to attempt doing something sneaky without the other PCs knowing, and I thought it would add to the intrigue if the actual players were in the same predicament. So, I set up a task with the app to do this:

When my phone gets a text message from his phone containing the keyword "Burgle", my phone automatically turns on its screen (which sits face up next to all the books) and displays a menu with a picture of the rogue and the words "Burgle Time!" on a big button at the bottom of the menu. When pressed, the app chooses a random number between 1-20 and adds his Stealth/Sleight of Hand mod (he's proficient in both) and displays the result at the top of a second menu, which I compare against the (passive) perceptions of all involved. This menu also has "Success" and "Fail" buttons, that when pressed, automatically send a reply text message containing the number rolled as well as the "Success" or "Fail" indicator back to the phone of the player.
Last edited by a moderator:


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Technology can certainly distract, but it can actually facilitate more interaction and better play.

I started DMing a 5e game after not having played TTRPGs since the early 90s and at first I was very anti-technology, because my experience was from before mobile phones and laptops were common. That said, I use RealmWorks to create and run adventures and Herolab to help manage combat. I have a smaller laptop and that is my DM screen. I actually have less of a barrier between me and my players than I did with one or two DM screens.

Not having to flip through books as I run my adventure keeps things running more smoothly than I could with printed material.

As the players have leveled up and combat has gotten more complex, I found that managing on paper and a Paizo combat pad was getting cumbersome. The Hero Lab tactical console really helps me keep combat moving. And this is 5e...I can't imagine running a Pathfinder game without something like Hero Lab.

Using Realm Works player view, I can throw up maps on a large plasma display with fog-of-war features. I initially intended to make the players map or take notes, but I we all find the game much more enjoyable this way. We focus on problem solving, role playing, and combat rather than mapping. I now would only require mapping with pencil and graph paper as a special challenge that fits into the story.

I'm the only one with a laptop. One other player has a tablet that he runs Herolab on. It don't even notice it. All the other players use paper character sheets.

Phones are less of a problem than I thought they would be. Our sessions are 8 hours long and we have wives, kids, jobs—there are going to some life interruptions. We are all adults, so it really hasn't been a problem.

I've also had one player join remotely. It has been a challenge to run an at-table game with one remote player, but with a good microphone, camera, and large display, it is kind of like tele-presence. The main issue is when multiple people talk, it is hard for the remote player to understand what is going on.

When it comes down to it, I don't think it is technology that is the problem. It is behavior. The GM needs to set the ground rules and explain expected etiquette.


First Post
We don't really use mobile devices (yet) in our games. We've adopted DropBox to share our session reports and character information, but that's about as far as our computer-aided tools go.

Luckily we don't usually have any problems with players getting distracted by their mobiles since in our typical gaming place we cannot pick up any signals, i.e. we're off the net.


Positives: Digital art and maps have improved my game immensely, I have zero artistic talent. Access to PDF's and digital rules and tools, maps and minis has made prep and gaming so much easier as a DM.

Cons: Players getting distracted is a nuisance (on the flip side though if someone is reaching for their phone or tablet it's a clue that I need to engage with them more).


I have found that a distracted player is a distracted player - they are just easier to notice if they happen to have a "tell" that they are distracted, whether it is grabbing their phone, a book, or even wandering away from the table.

So it is easy to blame the technology, but I don't find that to be the actual problem, just an easily spotted symptom.

I use tech at my own table. Sometimes its a laptop because I've got multiple PDFs I am working the game from, sometimes it's my phone because there is some fantastic app that helps me run (specifically the Crawler's Companion - makes an otherwise reference intense game just take a few taps on a screen). Mostly it is my players using their phones to aid the atmosphere of the game with music, aiding their own focus by fiddling with their phone rather than distracting everyone by letting off their excess unfocused energy by other means such as drumming on the table and books with their pencil-drumsticks or launching into conversation about every thought that happens to spring to mind, speeding up their own reference of needed information, or occupying the down-time natural in every session while any table set-up is being done or the DM has left the table.


Our loosely enforced rule is that phones are used for game related functions only. (An exception is an unexpected incoming call, text, etc. That of course is fine to look at any reply to...real life doesn't stop for D&D.) As a DM, I use a tablet to view my game notes and/or PDFs. Two players have used spell trackers.

I briefly had the idea for a "YouTube board" -- A dry erase list of things people OOC'ed during the game of "OMG you HAVE to see this thing on the internet"; creating a playlist to be watched post-session. It did not catch on. :(

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement